Commuting by bicycle

Cyclists deserve to breathe cleaner air

Weather man Martin Stew recently highlighted how cyclists can be exposed to harmful levels of air pollution along the capital’s busy roads in a report for ITV London. He also outlined steps that can be taken to reduce the negative impacts.

During his normal cycle commute from Streatham into Central London, monitoring equipment showed how Martin was frequently exposed to air pollution over the World Health Organisation’s recommended levels. Cycling along busy streets usually means sharing the road with large diesel vehicles, such as vans, buses and HGVs, that are the biggest contributors of harmful pollutants nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter.

Dr. Brugha, from Queen Mary University, stressed that this is not a reason to put you off cycling, as research shows that the health benefits from cycling can be greater than the risks from air pollution. If you are travelling along a busy road you will still breathe in the air pollution from vehicles whether you are inside one, cycling or walking, but the advantage from the last two is that you’re getting some exercise and you’re not contributing to the problem.

Something as simple as taking a quieter route can dramatically reduce your exposure to air pollution. This was illustrated by comparing pollution levels along Martin’s usual route along the busy streets of Brixton Hill and Elephant & Castle with an alternative route along back roads. The back route had a third of the pollution levels of the busy route and similar results have been seen in other scientific studies. However, we know that this is not always possible so the advice to cyclists in this case is to be aware of the problem, avoid putting yourself directly behind exhaust pipes and consider if cycling at less busy times is an option.

Getting more people cycling is part of the solution for achieving healthy air in London. In fact cyclists can use evidence on the health impacts of air pollution to build their case for more action on cycling, as can be seen in Croydon and BirminghamGet in touch if you are a cyclist using air pollution to make your case, or if you are simply concerned about air pollution in your area and want to get involved in the campaign.


photo by: Ania Mendrek

Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.